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James Merritt - Good God

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    James Merritt - Good God
TOPICS: Belief Barriers, God's Goodness

In case you haven't heard the latest, with everything else that's going on, our society is growing less and less religious by the day. In fact, one of the fastest growing segments of our population is what's called the nones. And when I mean the nones, I don't mean Whoopi Goldberg in "Sister Act" or Mother Teresa, what I mean is what we call the N-O-N-E-S, the nones. They are one of the fastest growing segments of our society. The nones are people who, when it comes right down to it, claim no religious affiliation with any religion whatsoever.

Now, this is what's staggering, they now comprise 23% of the population of this country. To put that in perspective, they now outnumber people like me who are called evangelical Christians. We represent 22.5%. They now are equal to the number of Catholics in the country who also number 23%. And the number of nones is outgrowing both Protestants and Catholics. Now, particularly for me as a pastor, and it should for you as a Christian, that puts a big elephant right here in this room. And it forces us to ask this big question, if the message of Christianity is true, and we believe it is, I do, and the best news the world will ever hear, it's the best news I've ever heard, then why are so many people rejecting it? Why are the nones going up like a rocket, and church affiliation is going down like a rock?

And when you talk to people, many people look at where they are in their life and then they look at what Christianity offers and they basically say, "I just can't get there from here. I can't bridge that gap". And in my research, I've discovered that there are five major reasons why people have a problem with Christianity. And while they look at the Christian faith and they hear the gospel and they hear about Jesus and they say, "Yeah, thanks but no thanks". Or, "You know what? It's just not just for me". Or, "I just can't buy it, I'm just not into it". Five reasons, here they are, number one, the problem of evil. Number two, hypocrisy in the church. Number three, science and scripture. Number four, racism and bigotry in the church. And number five, judgmental Christians. Five major reasons, five barriers, big barriers to believe.

So we're gonna begin a series of messages I'm really looking forward to, we're calling "From There to Here". Because we really do have a serious problem. And what we're going to do is we're gonna plow our way through these belief barriers, and we're not just gonna try to answer them. I wanna do that, but I wanna be honest, I want to call the church to account, because can I tell you? Can we just really state the fact? I'm saying this as a pastor, we have failed as a church. We have failed too often to be the church that God would want us to be. We have failed to project the image of the church that we ought to be projecting.

And we're gonna be dealing with some of those reasons, and by the way, the very first one we're dealing with, the problem of evil, always rises to the top of every survey. I'll give you one example. There was a poll that was conducted by a great organization, the Barna Research Association. They ask 1,000 people this question, it's a great question. They said, "If you could ask God only one question and you knew He would give you an answer, what would you ask"? That's a great question. You could ask God one question, you know He'll answer it. What would you ask? Did you know by far, so far, it was so far ahead of all the other ones, here was the number one answer they gave, "Why is there pain and suffering in the world"? They said, "That's what we'd like to ask God. Why is there pain and suffering in the world"?

Now, let me just be clear, if you are an unbeliever, you're a skeptic, or you're one of those people and maybe right now you've just had a, and you've just got the worst draw of the cards you've ever gotten in your life. You are just, I mean, life just absolutely stinks for you. And you've tried to do things the right way. You tried to live a good life and you finally said, "You know what? If this is the best you can do, I don't really need you". If you're one of those people that struggle with this whole deal with, "Hey, if God's so wonderful and God is so sweet and God is so great, why am I going through what I'm going through? Why is there so much pain and the evil in the world"? Can I just be clear? That's not just a question for you, it's a question for me. It's a question for Christians. We struggle with the same question that unbelievers do. It doesn't matter what your philosophy is or what your worldview is.

The question I wanna raise this morning is this, which worldview, which philosophy, does the best job of facing the problem and gives the best answer to the question? Now, let me just go ahead and say this as humbly and as honestly is I know how, if you're looking for an easy answer, you need to go just flip the channel and go watch something else. There is no easy answer and I'm not gonna pretend that there is. There's nothing that I can say or anybody else can say that will make you all of a sudden, say, "Oh, okay, I'm pretty cool now with the pain and suffering in the world".

As a matter of fact, I'm not okay with it. You shouldn't be okay with it. We shouldn't be okay with it. Nobody should be okay with it. And yet, here's where we are kind of stuck as Christians. We do believe in a God. We believe in a God who is good. We believe in a God who is good all the time. And yet the moment we say that, the moment we tell people that, this is what people immediately say, "Stop the bus I want off. I can't get there from here. Don't tell me about your good God with what I'm going through. Or what my wife went through, what my kids are going through, what my family is going through, what we're going through. I don't want to hear it".

Let me give you a real life illustration. Years ago, I was playing at a golf course, actually in another country, and it was a beautiful golf course. And a man had been kind enough to take me there, and it had caddies and so I had a caddy. And whenever I get to play a course with a caddy, which I don't do often, but I always will let them know I'm a pastor. And I try to open the doors of the gospel. And so we were, I had started off on this golf course and I said, "Hey, I'm a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia. We pastor a church". He said, "Really"? I said, "Yes". And then I just asked the question. I said, "You know, being a pastor I like to talk about spiritual things. Would you mind if we talked about spiritual things"? I always do that. Normally I, you know, I don't get any pushback back at all. I'll never forget what this man did, he put my golf bag down, he stopped. He gave me a stare that would melt a glacier. And he said unequivocally, "Yes, I would mind". He said, "I don't want to hear about God. I don't wanna hear about your God, anybody's God. I don't want to hear it".

Well, I'll be honest, I was kind of taken aback, but I said, "Well, okay man, you know, no problem". We went about two holes, I didn't say anything for a while. Things were kind of tense. I guess he kind of got filled a little bit about the way he snapped at me. And he kind of put the golf bag down and he said, "Look, Pastor, you need to understand something". He said, "I'm from Germany, I'm Jewish. My grandparents died in a concentration camp in the Holocaust and I don't have any use for a God that would let something like that happen to my family". Tell you another story, about a year or two ago, Theresa and I were eating at one of our favorite restaurants, not too far from our house, and there was a line, we'd put our name in. And we were sitting out front waiting for our name to be called.

Well, the door, we were sitting right next to the door, the door opened and this man came out, white hair, white mustache, kind of shuffling. And I looked up and I pushed Theresa and I said, "Theresa," I said, "That's Ted Turner". She's what. I said, "That's Ted Turner". And then I remembered something that Ted Turner said about Christianity. Here's what he said. He said, "Christianity is a religion for losers, a religion for losers". Let me tell you why he feels that way. He actually attended a Christian prep school, but he had a younger sister who became very ill. And Ted Turner said he prayed five years for God to heal his sister. But his sister suffered terribly and his sister died. And Ted Turner said, "I have no further use for a God that would allow that kind of suffering".

So the real question people ask is this one, "If there is a God, and that God is good, then why do bad things happen to good people"? Can I just legitimize something? It's a very fair question. It is a very legitimate question. See, we're not really bothered when bad things happen to bad people. That doesn't bother us. You know, when somebody gets what they deserve, no harm no foul. Our problem is when babies die at birth. Our problem is when innocent people are murdered. Our problem is when young girls and women are raped and sold into sexual slavery. Our problem is when defenseless people are physically abused. And when you look at these things, you can't help but ask this question, "Wait a minute, if God is good, why doesn't He do something about the pain and the suffering in the world"?

Well, let me give you some encouragement. We're not the first people to ask that question. We certainly won't be the last but there was a man that lived about, oh about 3,000 years ago. You probably never heard of him, but he was involved in this very same problem. He struggled with this very same dilemma. His name was Asaph. He was struggling with this question. As a matter of fact, he wrote a song about it. He wrote a song about this problem. It's in a book of songs called the Psalms. He happened to write the 73rd Psalm, because he could not understand why God would allow people who do love Him, serve Him, obey Him, worship Him, praise Him, glorify Him and love Him, he doesn't understand why do you let your own people suffer hurt and heartache and trials and trouble and tribulation and pain and problems?

As a matter of fact, he said, "I'm one of them". Here's what he said in Psalm 73, "Surely in vain I've kept my heart pure. I've washed my hands in innocence. All day long I've been afflicted and every morning brings new punishments". Asaph said, "I played by the rules, I've lived by the numbers, I went to church, paid my tithes, paid my taxes. I've been a good dad. I've been a good husband. I've been faithful in my marriage. I've always tried to do the right thing, and what has it got me? I'm afflicted all the time. Got problems coming out my ears. Every morning brings new punishments". He is neck deep into this mystery of why a good God allows good people to suffer bad things, pain and even death. And he says, "You know what? I just don't get it". He said, "When I tried to understand," he said, "when I tried to understand all of this, it troubled me deeply".

Now all of a sudden you say right now, "Yeah, that's where I am. I don't get it. I wanna believe in this God. I wanna believe this God is a good God. I don't believe this God is good all the time. I don't believe this God really loves me and cares about me". But so hard, to be honest, life's just not working out for me. But here's the good news, Asaph was able to able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. He was able to get to there from here, and we can do it by doing what he did. Three things, we're gonna go quickly. Number one, we should realize the dynamic of good and evil. We ought to realize the dynamic of good and evil.

Now let me tell you what I mean by that. One way to approach this, this is the way some people do it, some people just kind of deny that evil even exist. You know, and that sounds really odd because you know how we live in our culture but there are some forms, for example, of Eastern religion and they say, "Wait a minute, evil is just a figment of your imagination". It's just an illusion. Take Hinduism. According to Hindu thought, once a person achieves what they call nirvana or the right state of mystical consciousness, they say evil is really absent. And even here in the Western world where we live, we have groups like Christian science, and some New Age spiritualities and they embrace a similar view. The only problem is those of us who are experiencing bad things, go, "Sorry, this is not a figment of my imagination. My cancer's not a figment of my imagination. My divorce is not a figment of my imagination. My lost job was not a figment of my imagination. My kid that's hooked on drugs is not a figment of my imagination".

And so this thought that is always just an illusion, it's just a figment of our imagination, we go no, no, no, no, no, no, it's real. But then that leads to a greater problem, because if you can't get rid of evil, then here's what a lot of people say now, "Well, since you can't get rid of evil, then the next step is we need to get rid of God. You can't get rid of evil, you gotta get rid of God". Because it, because of evil, they will say you have to believe one of two things. Either God's not even real, either He really doesn't exist, or, if He does, He's a poor excuse for a God. Matter of fact, long ago, the Greek philosopher, Epicurus, said it better than anybody. Here's what he said. He said, "Look, either God wants to abolish evil and He can't or He can, but He doesn't want to. Or He can't and doesn't want to. If He wants to but He can't He's impotent. If He can but He doesn't want to, He's wicked. If He's good He would. If He could He should. The fact that He doesn't mean He can't or He won't. In that case, He doesn't exist".

Now I'll be honest, I've kind of have the lawyer mind in me says, "Well, that sounds like a pretty airtight case. I mean, it sounds like, you know, game over, problem solved, case closed". But it really doesn't and it really isn't. And let me tell you why, people who want to eliminate either God or a good God, they run into a brick wall for this simple reason. So I want you to think with me, you agree with me there's evil in the world. I don't really and truly... If you've got to sane mind you got, oh, yeah, yeah, there's a lot of evil in the world. Well, once you admit the existence of evil, then you have to admit the existence of good, because all evil is is the negative of things that are good. So let me give you an example. We say certain people are immoral, unjust, unfair, dishonest. Well, where do we get that idea? Because we know some people are moral and just and fair and honest.

So, both at the same time, what do we see? We see evil, we see good. But here's the problem, once you introduce good, you have to introduce God. And let me explain why. When you throw the idea of God out the window, you just throw out the standard of good. When you throw out the standard of good, you throw out the meaning of evil. That's why in the world of atheism, there can be no actual good, there can be no actual evil, because there's no absolute standard by which to judge anything is good or evil, right or wrong. So here's where we come, the problem of evil is not actually an argument against God, it is an argument for God. But we should realize this dynamic of good and evil. But that leads to the second point. We must recognize the dilemma of good and evil. We're gonna own up to it, because listen, just because I introduce God, let me be plain, I haven't solved the problem yet. I haven't even begun to try to answer the question yet.

As a matter of fact, what I've done is expose the problem. Because you see something that bothered Asaph and it also bothers us, because it goes back to the very first thing that Asaph said about God. Listen to what he said, "Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart". He makes a dogmatic statement. He said, "Of course God is good. God is good to Israel. If you're pure in heart, God is good to you". And you go, "Let me get this straight, you're telling me you known there's a God". Yep. "You're telling me you know this God is good to those who are pure in heart". Yep. Matter of fact, he goes on to say this about God, it gets worse. He says, "But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made," now listen to what he calls Him, "I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge. I will tell of all your deeds".

Now listen to what Asaph has called God. God is real, God is good, God's always good. God's good to those who are pure in heart. God is all-powerful. He is the Sovereign God. So he knows something about God. God is so powerful, if He's the Sovereign Lord, if He's totally in control, He could prevent any pain, any evil, any suffering, any problem from ever coming into our life. And if God is sovereign, that means that nothing ever happens to us unless two things, one of two things has to be true, God causes it or God allows it. So I'm going to just get that out there. Good or bad, doesn't matter. If it happens, either God caused it to happen, or God allowed it to happen. And here's what we also know, every day God keeps bad things from happening to us. You know how I know God keeps bad things from happening to me? I'm here. I could have been killed on the way to the work, to church. Somebody could have a drive by shooting, I could have, somebody could've shot me. I could have died of a heart attack on the way here.

So we know every day without even realizing it, God keeps bad things from happening for us. Matter of fact, He does it all throughout scripture. You see it all the time. He kept Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from burning up in that fiery furnace. He kept the lions from eating Daniel in that den. He kept Goliath from cutting David in half. But then that raises a question, you say, "Wait a minute, if God can keep bad things from happening to any good person, why doesn't God keep bad things from happening to every good person? If God could keep bad things from happening to me any of the time, why doesn't God keep bad things from happening to me all of the time"?

Now here's where this message is gonna get hard. There's one thing about the Bible, if I could change it, I would change it. There may be lot of things you'd change, there's one thing I would change. I've read this, I've read this book scores and scores of times. I'm being conservative, I read it through every year. But I'm gonna tell you up front, from one end of the Bible to the other, God never explains why He allows evil and suffering. I'm just being honest. If that's what you're looking for, it's not here. Now, He does explain how He uses it. He never explains why He allows it. Let me give you an example, go back to the first three chapters of Genesis. I believe in a real Adam and Eve, I believe in a real garden. You may say, "I just believe it's an analogy, I believe it's a story".

Okay, either way, you can raise this question. I remember raising it against a boy. Everything's good. God creates the world, it's all good. Adam and Eve, they're happy, they're in love, they're naming the animals. They're eating the fruit. They're, I mean, life is great and all of a sudden the serpent comes into view. Question, why did God allow the serpent in the Garden of Eden? You wanna know my answer? I don't have a clue. I don't know why. And God doesn't tell me why. As a matter of fact, God has made it plain He doesn't owe me an explanation. He doesn't owe you one. He doesn't know any of us one for anything He does. Even, on the other hand, even though evil and suffering does not always make sense to us, it doesn't mean it doesn't always make sense, let's think about this, if God is all-good and God is all-powerful, there's no such thing as a pure accident. Because God has made it plain that every event that takes place in your life and my life, whether it's good or whether it's bad, is a piece that's gonna fit perfectly into the puzzle of His plan for your life.

Because let me tell you something else about God that makes it even harder. God not only is all-good, God not only is all-powerful, God is all-knowing, God knows everything. You know, we don't even know what we don't know. But there's nothing that God doesn't know. So here's another conclusion you can draw, if God is all-knowing, guess what? He even knows how to take all the evil and all the bad things that happened to you and to me and use it in such a way it comes out for our good and for His glory. Matter of fact, that's what He says about himself. Here's, we read this verse in Proverbs 16, "The Lord has made everything for its purpose," listen to this, "even the wicked for the day of trouble".

Everything has a purpose. You're gonna see in just a moment that the ultimate example of how good, how God can take the greatest evil and turn it into the greatest good, we're gonna see that in just a moment, but here's what you need to remember, and this is so hard to accept sometimes, but if you're gonna get your head around this you've gotta remember this one principle, God's principles and promises are the same for every believer, but his plans and purposes may be entirely different. You may die of cancer. I may die of natural causes. You may die of a stroke. I may die of old age. It doesn't mean His principles are not the same, or His promises is not the same, but His plans for all of us are different. And see, God wants to use even the bad things in our lives to mature us and grow us and force us to look to Him, to place our trust in Him.

You know, some of you are looking, out there listening to me right now and you're having a hard time, you're saying, "Buddy, I am flat on my back". You know what I read the other day? Somebody has said, "Here's the good news about being flat on your back. When you're flat on your back, the only way you can look is up". And, you know, sometimes God puts you flat on your back, so you will look up. Now here's the point God's gonna get every one of us to the same destination. God's gonna get everyone of us to the same place He wants us to be, but He's not going to do it the same way. But at the end of the day and at the end of our life, here's what you'll know, everything will be put together in such a way and used in such a way it's for our ultimate good and for His ultimate glory.

Let me just give you two real life examples. You know, we normally think that things like hurricanes and tornadoes and earthquakes, they're evil. And, you know, we wish they could be eliminated. Well, this may shock you, but we now know that those things are actually necessary for the benefit of the world. Say, what do you mean? Planetary science now infers that these events have to occur for the earth to maintain the delicate balance of atmospheric and environmental conditions or we wouldn't even survive. For example, take hurricanes, did you know this? They counterbalance the ocean's tendency to leach carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Otherwise, there would be a catastrophic cooling of the planet. Hurricanes prevent the ocean from trapping too much of the sun's heat by helping to circulate greenhouses gases globally as they shade the ocean, preventing the heat from building up too dramatically, otherwise, many fish and sea creatures would die.

So here's the point, even a hurricane, God says, "I know what I'm doing". Oh, by the way, how about earthquake? You know that when tectonic plates that cause earthquakes, they shift, did you know they allow the essential nutrients for life to be recycled back into the continents? Did you know, without earthquakes, listen to this, nutrients essential for land life would erode off the continents and accumulate in the oceans. In a relatively brief time, almost every creature on land, especially the advanced species, would starve to death. God says, "You know what? I am so good, I'm so powerful, I'm so wise, I'm so knowing I can take a hurricane, I can take an earthquake, I can take a national calamity and use it for your good and for My glory". That leads to the last point and we'll wrap up. This'll be quick. We can rejoice in the defeat of good over evil. We can rejoice in the defeat of good over evil.

See, I hate to burst some of the bubbles out there, it's just not true that evil and pain and suffering automatically eliminates the idea of a good God, of a powerful God, of a wise God, of a knowing God. As a matter of fact, here's what we now know, a good and a powerful God will always prevent suffering and evil, unless He has a good reason and purpose to allow it. As a matter of fact, God will allow one evil, because it will prevent a greater evil. And sometimes He will allow evil because it will produce an even greater good. And you know what Exhibit A is for a pastor? The cross of Jesus Christ. Whenever I get this question about what about evil, what about suffering, what about pain? I always go to the cross, because the greatest evil that's ever happened to anyone in the world happened to the only perfect person who has ever lived. We crucified the perfect Son of God.

As a matter of fact, of all the world's religions, only Christianity reveals the God who says, "I'm gonna suffer with you. I'm gonna hurt with you. I'm gonna experience evil and pain and heartache and rejection like you can't even imagine". Only Christianity reveals that God, that kind of God. And see, Jesus knows what it is when a bad things happen, bad thing happens to a good person. As a matter of fact, Jesus knows what it is when a bad things happens to a perfect person. Matter of fact, we all know the day it happened, right? I've said this to you before, what do we call it? Good Friday. Excuse me, good Friday? That the day when the worst the world had to offer, gave it to the one that deserved the best that God had to give, and we call it Good Friday? Why don't we call it bad Friday? I mean, who's ever suffered more injustice, more evil, more undeserved suffering? Who paid the highest price ever paid for wickedness and pain and suffering and death that He did not deserve?

As a matter of fact, I think sometimes we ask the wrong question. I think, instead of asking why did God do this to me, I think we ought to look at the cross and say, "Why did God do that for me"? See, what came out of Good Friday, what was the result of the worst thing that ever happened to the best person who ever lived? Well, how about salvation, eternal life, forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, a home in heaven? How about that? The best good we could ever experience, both in this life and in the life to come, would have never been possible if the greatest evil had never been committed. Our only hope to try to cope with the evil and the pain and the suffering and the COVID-19 and the racial division and the wars and the terrorism and all of the bad things going on in this world, our only hope to cope with all of this is not to deny God, it is to delight in a God, to receive that God, to hold that God close and believe He's good all the time.

By the way, that's the way Asaph finished, because he said this, "When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply till I entered the sanctuary of God, then I understood their final destiny". Let me wrap this up. We better thank God that there is a God who is all-good, all-powerful and all-knowing, 'cause let me tell you what I know, for all of the wrong that's ever been done, one day justice will prevail. For all the evil we experience, one day it will turn to our good. The resurrection of Jesus tells me, no matter how bad Friday may be today, Sunday is coming. Good will defeat evil. Evil doesn't tell me that God doesn't exist, or that God doesn't care, or that God isn't good, our God isn't wise, or our God isn't powerful. You know what it tells me? God is so great, God is so good. He can not only allow evil and suffering in this world, He can use it to accomplish an even greater good. And even more to the point, He can do it for His eternal glory, which is the greatest good of all.

Would you pray with me right now? I don't know where you are in your life, I do know this, for some of you this was a hard message to hang in there with. This was a hard message to listen to. And I say this respectfully, if you kind of let the devil sell you a bill of goods, because the cards didn't come up for you the way you wanted, because your marriage didn't work out, because you've been battling cancer, because you've gotten the raw end of the deal in things you don't deserve. And beyond even that, forgetting about you, you see all the junk that's going on to all many, so many innocent, good people around the world, and the devil sold you a bill of goods and said, "Hey, that ought to tell you to kick God to the curb," when it's just the opposite. What it ought to do is drive you to a God who can take that evil, that pain, that problem, that trial, that tribulation, that hurt, that heartache.

And if you will allow Him, He can so mix it in the crucible of His will for your life, He can turn it out ultimately for your good or for His glory. And He proved it. He didn't have to shut up, He put up. He did it in the cross and the resurrection of Jesus. So I'm gonna invite you today, if you've never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, can I tell you one thing I know? If you're one of those people flat on your back, you're one of those people, you think you've gotten a raw deal, would you just consider maybe it's God trying to get your attention? It's God trying to say to you, "Look to Me, let Me come into your life. Let Me change you, let Me forgive you of your sins". Would you right now just call upon that God? Would you just pray this prayer right now with me? Would you say:

Lord God, You are a good God. You're a great God. You're a gracious God. So good, You sent your Son, perfect, and even though we did our worst to Him, He's done His best for us. Lord Jesus, today, I believe You died for me. I believe God raised You from the dead, so right now I repent of my sin. I repent of the way I've rejected You, and today I accept You as my Lord, as my Savior. I give all that I am to all that You are. Thank You for saving me. Thank You for hearing my prayer. And no matter what happens to me the rest of my life, I will trust You, I will serve You, I will love You, and I will obey You till the day You take me to be with You.

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